Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July'14 - An Extraordinary Moment

This day in history, July 24: Racial tensions spar...
Recently Ann Curry interviewed former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu about their new book The Book for Forgiving.  Curry said, “In the face of so much evil, it must take an extraordinary person to forgive.”  Tutu and his daughter agreed, saying, 

“We all have the capacity to be extraordinary.” 

Having read Aaron Wicks’ challenge to the Rochester community to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rochester riots  AND to move forward with bridging the gap between suburban and city neighbors, Tutu’s words struck me.  Wicks’ idea, to build a “turning point event” this July, seemed impossible to pull together and yet ...  

“We all have the capacity to be extraordinary.” 

Particularly in light of Ed Doherty’s (Rochester Area Community Foundation) Report on Poverty in Rochester  and his analysis of the effects of poverty on school test scores, we need to engage in a community conversation!  Check out this list of over a dozen events happening in the next two weeks. Take a walking tour of significant places, listen to Rochester native, now national speaker, Bruce Jacobs reflect on the events of 1964, attend a screening of July ’64.

These are just a few ideas to commemorate the anniversary of the riots 50 years ago and also to begin moving in a new direction to mitigate the concentration of poverty in the city.  We constructed the social, economic and political policies that created this concentrated poverty. Will we now move toward policies that embrace inclusion and equity? 

“We all have the capacity to be extraordinary.”  

Be a reconciling part of our commemoration of 1964.


© Elizabeth Laidlaw 2014

The following events will be presented during the month of July to commemorate the events of the Rochester Rebellion:
  • Through July 31: Now and Then - Remembering the Race Riots/Rebellion of 1964 - An exhibit, created by St. John Fisher College students and funded by the New York Council for the Humanities, that chronicles the local, national, and global impact of the July 1964 riots and rebellion. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Local History and Genealogy Division of the Rundel Memorial Library, 115 South Ave.
  • July 7, 14, 21 and 28: Retrofitting Rochester - Remembering the Race Riots/Rebellion of 1964 - Staff from the Office of the City Historian will explore the July 1964 rebellion in a four-part series of articles in the Democrat & Chronicle’s weekly “Retrofitting Rochester” column throughout the month of July 2014. The column is published every Monday in the RocRoots section of the newspaper and posted online
  • July 11 through Aug. 1: July 64 Rochester Remembers - An exhibit of photographs from the archives of the City of Rochester and Gannett Rochester to commemorate the events before, during and immediately after the rebellion of July 1964. Presented in association with the Democrat and Chronicle UNITE Rochester. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. City Hall Link Gallery, 30 Church St. A Curator’s Reception hosted by Mayor Warren, the City Council and UNITE Rochester will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 22 in the Link Gallery.
  • July 15, 17, 29 and 31: Walking Tours of Joseph Avenue. The Lincoln Branch Library will host a walking tour with Monroe Community College Professor Verdis Robinson. He will highlight significant points of interest in the northeast neighborhood. Tours start at 4 p.m. Meet at the Lincoln Branch Library, 851 Joseph Ave.
  • July 15: “Race, Riots and Roller Coasters: The Struggle for Integrated Recreation in America” – Victoria W. Wolcott, author and Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, will speak on the history of segregated recreation in America, exploring how spaces of public leisure - parks, pools, and playgrounds - were important, if overlooked, battlefields in the wider struggle for racial equality during the civil rights era. Wolcott will follow her talk with a Q&A session. Noon in Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.
  • Monday, July 21: “There’s a Riot Going On: The Current of Race Relations Since the 1964 Riots” – Rochester native and national author Bruce A. Jacobs, whose latest book is “Race Manners for the 21st Century,” returns to his home town to discuss how racial dynamics have changed since the riots of 1964 and how they have not. He will follow his talk with a Q&A session. Jacobs has appeared on NPR, C-SPAN and elsewhere. He and writes, travels and speaks about race and social justice. 1:30 p.m. in Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.
  • July 22: Screening of July ‘64 and Teen Discussion with Darryl Porter - July ’64 tells the story of three historic days in two African American neighborhoods of Rochester. Darryl Porter, former president of the Rochester City School Board and gang leader in his youth, will lead a discussion with teens after the screening. 2 to 4 p.m. in the Teen Central area of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.
  • July 23: Screening of July ‘64 and Panel Discussion. Documentary Producer Christine Christopher and Director Carvin Eison will join a panel discussion with Darryl Porter and media professor Tom Proietti on insights and experiences to be gleaned from the documentary. 2 to 4 p.m. in Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.
  • July 23: City Proclamation of Days of Remembrance and Recommitment: Mayor Warren and City Council President Loretta Scott will issue a proclamation to remember the events of 1964 in hopes that the work that was started during those events will soon be complete. The reading of the proclamation will coincide with a ceremonial lighting of the High Falls to commemorate the Rebellion of 1964. 8:30 p.m. on the Pont de Rennes Bridge. Details to be announced.
  • July 24: Civil Rights Talk with Ruth Holland Scott - Activist, author, politician and teacher, Ruth Holland Scott was the first African American woman elected to the Rochester City Council. She will discuss civil rights in Rochester in the years following the events of July 1964. Her book will be available for purchase. Noon in Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.
  • July 24: City 12 TV Broadcast of the Documentary July ’64. - 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Visit for viewing information.
  • July 25: July ’64 Revisited: Rochester and Race Relations with the Black Storytelling League of Rochester - Hear accounts of local storytellers about what happened in Rochester during the race riots of 1964. 11:30 a.m. in the Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Its All In The Memes

 According to Daniel Quinn, what drives a society forward is vision. An all-pervasive, inarticulated vision, the essence of which can be glimpsed in memes. Memes are particular reflections of a culture's vision in particular individuals and are transmitted through artistic and scientific works from person to person, generation to generation (hang with me here). Richard Dawkin's introduction to memes likens them to genes.  Quinn's examples of Christianity, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution, each are examples of a particular vision driving a culture forward, person by person. In the artistic and scientific products of each era, one can get a glimpse of the vision of that era.

In the digital age, the meaning of a 'meme' has morphed into a specific image which transmits a part of a culture's vision.   Here's an example:
Original image by Kevin Lamarque for Reuters.

Humor aside, focus on the image of Hillary. This meme transmits a great deal of information about our culture. For example, the belief that we have the ability through a tiny gizmo aboard a jet traveling thousands of feet in the air to control the globe.

Here's another meme articulating a more troubling vision:
And for the purpose of this blogpost, the meme below expresses a deep reality about the U.S. This image, showing the increasing polarity of political parties, comes on the heels of the Pew Research Center's conclusion that "80% of conservatives agree that poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything."The thing about memes is that they tend to express self-fulfilling prophecies. If you are viewing a potent meme, you are apt to view it as a fact and act on it as a fact, believing that it is true.

Democrats and Republicans More Ideologically Divided than in the Past
Memes sometimes represent visions founded on false beliefs. Think of the meme of the flat world, representing the medieval culture's false vision in the certainty of its limited science. This meme, and the vision, it represented, fell in the face of a stronger vision--that through science we can discover the real truth.2

The belief that poor people have it is easy is a recurring meme representing a belief that under girds our deeply divided culture -- and this belief is false. A case in point is parenting. Most parents have a hard row to hoe. Choosing to stay home with your children, particularly with newborn children, is choosing to endure sleepless nights and a schedule that is entirely contingent on the needs of the newbie. And for many of us, staying home with our children is not a choice.

Parenting is challenging...even for parents who have the help of Orajel, thermometers, Kleenex, pacifiers, white noise machines, and cough medicine.

Try to imagine how challenging parenting in poverty is. 
No Orajel
No baby monitors, 
No car to drive a sick baby to the doctor's office. 
No Walgreens conveniently placed in your neighborhood..but for $2.99 you can buy a package for 4 ibuprophen tablets behind the counter at the corner store. 

Even if you are blessed to have healthy children, which is against the odds for a family in poverty3 , where you live and what you don't have makes your life ever more challenging. 

Try getting to a PTA meeting or teacher's conference when you are a single mom and hiring a babysitter is out of the question.You don't have a working car with gas in it and your child's school is likely across town. Bundling your younger children up for the bus trip adds a good half hour to your journey. And let's hope one of those younger siblings isn't ill.

For too many of our parents, either the necessity of working two jobs robs them of the luxury of staying home or the exorbitant cost of quality childcare ($12,000/year) is a barrier to getting a job. For these families, roughly a third of the families in Monroe County, parenting in poverty, as challenging as it is, is the only available option.  Yet, the prevailing meme is that poor people have it easy.

How do we change this vision this meme represents? Lets try replacing the flawed meme. My hope is that the relationship between a vision and its memes is a two-way street. My hope is that we are able to replace memes that represent false beliefs (poor have it easy) with memes depicting a better vision (with resources, parents are able to make better choices).

Consider these facts gathered by The Children's Agenda:
• Seventy percent of families in Monroe County do not have a stay-at-home parent and their children are spending their first years in child care settings. 
• Fewer than 40% of working families who are eligible for child care subsidies receive this financial assistance because of inadequate public funding. Child care subsidies are critically important because good child care is almost always prohibitively expensive for low-income working families. 
• While over 80% of Rochester 4-year-olds participate and benefit from high quality Pre-K, many children still arrive in Kindergarten with cognitive or behavioral deficits, and reach that important grade 3 milestone without achieving reading proficiency.” 
• Reports of child neglect and abuse are rising in our community each year. In the majority of cases, this abuse/neglect can be prevented. Prevention happens through evidence-based, proven programs that foster positive, healthy parenting, like the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and Building Healthy Children (BHC) programs. NFP reduces incidents of abuse and neglect by 48% and returns $5 for every $1 invested. 

What would it take for the Community of Monroe to embrace the vision of quality care for all children? It will take efforts such as Unite Rochester to build the relationships necessary for our community to wrap its arms around all our children.

For Parents
(Child Care Council

According to Quinn, the vision is all in the memes. What is your vision for our community?

© Elizabeth Laidlaw 2014

2. This vision is also false, but that is the subject for another post.

3. Lower income children have poorer health outcomes and worse access to health and mental health care than higher income children. According to the most recent data:

• Over 2 million children fell below the poverty level because of their families’ health care costs.

• Children in poor families were twice as likely not to receive preventive medical and dental care as
 children in families earning 400 percent or more of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and poor children
were three times as likely to be obese at ages 10-17 .

Young children in poor families were more than twice as likely to be at high risk for developmental,
behavioral, or social delays as children in families earning 200 percent or more of the FPL.

• Infants born to Black mothers were more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday
as infants born to White mothers.

• Children of color were more likely to be uninsured than White children. In 2012, 1 in 7
Hispanic children and 1 in 11 Black children were uninsured, compared to 1 in 15 White

• Ninety-one percent of parents of White children rated their child’s health as excellent or very
good compared to only 70 percent of parents of Hispanic children.

• Black children were 70 percent more likely than White children not to receive needed mental
health services. Overall, nearly 40 percent of children who needed mental health services did
not receive them.

Excerpted from The State of America’s Children 2014  The Children’s Defense Fund

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Advantage of Disadvantage

“We have a definition in our heads of what an advantage is — and the definition isn’t right. And what happens as a result? It means that we make mistakes. It means that we misread battles between underdogs and giants."
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Sports writer Jeff DiVeronica misses the boat when dissing SOTA's softball team in the D&C, two days before SOTA's (17-0) sectional playoff game. He suggests that county softball teams 'adopt a city school' in order to share the material and training resources only available to suburban high school programs. DiVeronica’s point is that SOTA will lose in the sectionals because of an obvious lack of stuff (uniforms, spring sports camps, etc.). What he misses, and Malcolm Gladwell would direct him to consider, is SOTA's advantage in its lack of material resources. The strength of SOTA's team this year had everything to do with resilience -- a quality that suburban programs might benefit from.

Resilience: the capacity to recover from difficulties.

Resilience this year meant SOTA persevered when two key players broke bones at third base (where were the umps?!).

Resilience was painfully obvious when one of these hurt players stoically waited seemingly forever, immobile at third base with two broken bones, as the ambulance had difficulty finding Cobb's Hill (where was the GPS?!). In the 30 minutes she laid prone on the field, her broken leg still reaching to touch the base, SOTA players patiently cared for and consoled her -- fetching her water, a pillow, her coat, then a blanket.

At tournament time, resilience shone as players eagerly fulfilled the coaches' requests to change up fielding, catchers, and pitchers in an effort to overcome their sectional challengers.

Finally, resilience meant uncompromising sports-woman-ship in the face of victory and defeat. Here's the team sharing their City-wide Championship glow with runner-up Wilson's softball team.

As we embark on a conversation about how to make Great Schools for All, I am grateful for Mr. DiVeronica’s idea that county and city athletes partner. I ask only that we begin with taking stock of both the 1) advantages and disadvantages of an education in the City School District and 2)  advantages and disadvantages of an education in suburban districts

Here are two opportunities to join our journey:

Listen in on Tuesday, May 27 at noon to Connections with Evan Dawson on WXXI where you will hear the beginning the story of 11 Rochesterians who traveled to Raleigh NC to learn what works in Urban Education.

And experience an interactive performance by parents-students-teachers focusing on concentrated poverty and how it affects Rochester and the region. Join us on Sunday, June 22 at the First Unitarian Church on Winton Road. (Childcare provided, donation accepted for light lunch at noon prior to the 1:00 performance). Need more information? Read LizHallmark’s review of a similar performance last month at the South Wedge Mission.

In Gladwell's words ... "we underestimate how much freedom there can be in what looks like a disadvantage." 

© Elizabeth Laidlaw 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Monroe County 2014: Academic Apartheid

(əˈpärtˌ(h)āt,-ˌ(h)īt/)  noun,  historical: 

any system or practice that separates people according to race, caste, etc.                                                             

We are living in the midst of Academic Apartheid.  These are strong words -- backed by fact. In our community there is a strong correlation between poverty and poor academic performance.

  • The graduation rate for African American males in RCSD 9%.[1]
  •  88% of the children in RCSD qualify for free or reduced-price lunch             (The number qualifying for FRPL is a measure of poverty).
  •  The surrounding 18 districts have much higher graduation rates and lower poverty rates.

If you have a warm bed to sleep in and food in the refrigerator, 
you are the 1% compared to 9 out of 10 children in Rochester City School District. 

How did Monroe County get this way?

It started in the 1950's and 1960's with housing apartheid. With the waves of migrant African American workers from the south and migrant Puerto Rican citizens, most of the affordable housing was and is now located within the city limits. These migrations expanded the number of folks hovering around the poverty line.

At the same time, half of Rochester's mostly white and mostly middle-class population moved to the suburbs. You can't blame people for wanting to come home after a hard day at work to a beautiful new house, manicured lawn, and 2-car garage. This was and is the “American” dream many of us aspire to. We built the structure of our community around this dream.

Decades of little to no low-cost housing built in the suburbs maintained this housing apartheid. Because jobs migrated to the suburbs, where buses rarely run, housing apartheid has led to economic apartheid. Truly, we are a community of haves and have-nots. Not only are there schools for the poor (RCSD) schools and for the rich (Pittsford and Mendon), there are nursing homes for the poor and nursing homes for the rich, medical care for the poor and medical care for the rich.

Educational researcher Gerald Grant describes the burden poverty places on schools. Monroe County's decades of economic apartheid, in the absence of meaningful change, has lead inevitably to academic apartheid. That's how we got here. Our journey is similar to Hartford and Buffalo and Syracuse.

We do not need to settle for academic apartheid. Two communities made significant changes decades ago to prevent this inevitability. Portland, Oregon nipped urban decline in the bud through “Livable Land Use Policy.”  In Portland, residents agreed not to build beyond the city limits, so significant investment went to transportation and housing in the city.  Portland prevented academic apartheid by preventing housing apartheid. However, it is difficult to imagine a scenario that would result in Rochester reversing decades of suburban sprawl. Dismantling the decades-old, fixed borders between city and suburbs in Rochester won't be our solution to apartheid.

Raleigh, North Carolina, while not under a direct court order to integrate, saw what was going on down the road when the court forced the city/county merger of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in the 1970s.  Coming together as a community, city and suburban parents, teachers and school boards have work together in Raleigh, over the course of three decades, to eliminate Academic Apartheid. First, by merging the Wake County District with the Raleigh district, then by using magnet schools and an innovative assignment of where students learn, they succeeded in finally raising a very high bar of achievement, at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

There are no bad schools in Raleigh, despite pre-existing economic apartheid.

Raleigh's secret? 

They found a method, countywide, to cap the number of impoverished students in each building to a maximum of 40%. 

Suburban parents in Wake County agreed to allow their children to ride the bus 10 minutes longer to go to a high quality school with a specialized academic focus for gifted and talented students. City parents agreed to allow their students to be assigned schools in the suburbs, sacrificing their excellent neighborhood school experience for the long term gain of better education for all Wake County children. In addition, city parents knew their children bore needed gifts -- resilience and tolerance. 

In Wake County, urban and suburban parents came together under the belief that 

our children are all our children.

Why should we in Monroe County begin to address academic apartheid by examining the Raleigh model?  

The pragmatist in me reminds you that those who don’t graduate inevitably become a burden on the backs of those suburbanites who pay for added social security and food subsidies and Medicare and national health insurance and bloated courts and prisons. 

The ethicist in me reminds you, “because it's the right thing to do and we all benefit.” 

© Elizabeth Laidlaw 2014

[1] The 2012 Schott Foundation report lists Rochester among the lowest cities for graduating black men and Wake county, NC, as having one of the highest graduation rates for this same group.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Neuroscience of Poverty: Explaining poor kids’ poor grades

Duke researchers, in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association a decade ago, established the causal link between poverty and poor academic achievement in school-aged children. Truthout editors Christian Exoo and Calvin Exoo, in their blog post, describe the study which followed 1200 school-aged kids for 8 years. The children were categorized as a) never poor, b) persistently poor, or c) ex-poor (children from families that experienced a modest increase in income during the course of the study). The study’s conclusion? The "results support a social causation explanation for conduct and oppositional disorder.”

In other words, the neural disorders brought on by food and housing insecurity produce a traumatic state often interpreted as ADHD. The chart below tracks both poverty levels and poor academic performance for each of Monroe County’s 19 school districts. Poverty is measured by the number of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch in 2012 and the academic performance is measured by the number of students not proficient in state standards as measured by 2012 state tests.

Poverty = % of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch in 2012
Poor Performance = % percent of students scoring 1 or 2 on third grade ELA exam for 20121
Source: NYS Ed. Dept. report cards:
  % free or reduced lunch
  % not proficient
East Irondequoit
East Rochester
Honeoye Falls Lima
Rush Henrietta
West Irondequoit
Wheatland Chili

There is a definite correlation between the percentage of students who are poor and the students who are not achieving. Still, a mere correlation does not mean that poverty causes poor academic achievement …unless you have data to make that causal connection – which is the connection made in the Duke study. Combine this research with that presented in Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh, Gerald Grant’s study of poverty and academic achievement, and you have a mandate for change. Grant shows that when poor children are placed in schools where less than 40% of students are poor, affluent children’s performance does not suffer and poor children’s performance improves substantially.

Here is the take away: Every district has an interest in decreasing the number of students living in poverty. 

In a community like Rochester (and Raleigh) where long-term regional viability depends on a healthy inner core, we have every reason to get creative about mitigating the effects of poverty on education. In addition to the economic incentive, we have a moral imperative here. Leaving behind the 24,000 city children who will not get into charters, particularly when we understand the connection between poverty and education, is unacceptable.

 If I knew 3 of my 4 children would excel and one would not because of a preventable condition, you bet the focus of my attention would be on that fourth child. It is in the interest of three who excel that they understand we need to mitigate preventable harm.

In the words of the authors Exoo:

If you'd rather teach a man to fish than give him one, then by all means allow him the capacity to learn.”

©Elizabeth Laidlaw 2014

1 My gratitude to Edward J. Doherty for sharing the idea of charting this connection.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Send a letter to the School Board

           Before we spend one dollar on non-essential items (window shades or buses that still run), 
we must spend money on social workers.

I have the privilege to work with tutors from 10  urban Presbyterian churches. They are parents,  teachers, retired psychologists and counselors, some of whom have been tutoring in Rochester City school buildings for over 25 years. We observed over the past year that many students in each classroom are in a state of constant trauma. We researched trauma and learned through neuroscience that learning cannot happen in a traumatized brain because it thinks about fighting, fleeing or freezing.

In order to learn, traumatized students must be counseled to restore their ability to learn. City School teachers are AMAZING professionals who were hired to teach, not to counsel. So teachers must be trained in how to restore the traumatized child’s brain. 

Social workers are most effective in counseling students and training teachers to restore traumatized brains. Currently the City School District does not have enough social workers to go around.
We asking the school board to restore and augment budget lines for social workers in the 2014-2015 budget so that each school building has at minimum a full-time social worker devoted to it.

We want the School Board, while constructing the budget, to remember that 
people are more important than things.

Before we spend one dollar on non-essential material items (window shades and buses that still run), we must spend money on social workers.

Please sign this letter to the Board and send it here or here to insure that the School Board reads it.

©Elizabeth Laidlaw